Music Reviews
As Long As You Are

Future Islands As Long As You Are

(4AD) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

The difficult follow-up for Future Islands came just eleven years—and five albums—into their career. Like a Future Islands song, they were powering through at their own pace. But somehow they missed; as with their singles, it was inevitably going to kick into life. After building an impressive and now overlooked back catalogue, the band's breakthrough, Singles, arrived. But once it—and one single in particular—did show up, they weren’t only getting their foot in the door, but being whisked past the queue.

 

When that arrives after taking the long way round, it’s easy to do the same again. For most people, The Far Field was a good follow-up. It occasionally bested Singles, but could never escape its shadow. It proved not only that Seasons (Waiting On You) wasn’t a fluke, but that actually they could write like it without really thinking—a new problem, not least for Samuel T Herring, the frontman who usually has earnestness coursing through his veins. As Herring said in an interview with the Grammy website (“I feel like The Far Field was us writing for the person that loves Seasons"), it was unwitting at the moment, but unavoidable three years on. Now, just as the first three albums with fuzzy production and abstract artwork felt separate to the polish of Singles and The Far Field, As Long As You Are feels separate. It’s a slight shame that, while the tone is different, this sixth album is mostly just a sideways step. 

 

As always, Herring is perpetually on the cusp of a breakthrough in the relationship. This time, though, there is often a sense of despondency where not even a sudden burst of energy would break through. They are no longer trying to motivate or fire up others, and often he’s just trying to keep himself going. I Knew You, possibly the band’s most beautiful track, finds Herring returning to a very different relationship that couldn't exist on nostalgia alone: I knew you as you were, not as you are. It’s not the same, it’s not the way you used to. On City's Face, Herring sounds worn out for the first time as he leaves a city haunted by happy memories. Thrill is the realisation that sometimes you just need to go through it alone. 

 

It’s easy for those moments to get lost along the louder choruses, the exception being the sweeping Plastic Beach, which bursts open as Herring begins to yell “I see tomorrow.” It feels like a genuine awakening. This is a strikingly honest album, whether most listeners are paying attention or not. That’s not to say those louder choruses aren’t welcome, if slightly predictable at this point. For Sure is a declaration of love and trust hammered home. There’s the trembling of Herring’s voice as he trails off at the end (“I will never keep you from just who you are, I know, I know”) that hints at the uncertainty of the rest of the album. The rest of the album is enjoyable, although completely indistinguishable from everything post-Singles, and less exciting than the highs of their first three.

 

Maybe that’s the problem with As Long As You Are. Throughout these 11 songs, there’s a conflict between whether the characters are ready to move on or are fighting to go back to how it was. It’s not hard to apply the same logic to Future Islands as a band, who manage to hold themselves back to produce one of their most consistent, but least compelling records. On closer Hit The Road, Herring finally has to decide what to do, whether to stay or make his escape. Ultimately, Herring decides to leave the baggage behind and put his foot down. As a songwriter, however, he’s still looking at his mirrors with a foot hovering over the gas.